Jaca, the first capital of Aragon, sits at the feet of the Pyrenees. It’s one of the biggest towns of the area and an important base for tourists attracted by the mountains and the towns history, old town, tapas bars and restaurants. It’s got a good selection of shops and it’s the place to head if you need any outdoor kit.
The old town is beautiful with lovely buildings, streets and churches. It’s got a great ambience and is a perfect place to spend a day taking in the history while making the obligatory stops for tapas and vino of course!
Things to see in Jaca include the 11th century Romanesque cathedral, 16th century pentagonal fortress, the town hall and it’s various churches. It’s well known for it’s tapas bars – the food is excellent and it’s well worth having a night out here.
Jaca has been settled since the 3rd century BC. In 1035 Ramiro I, the first king af Aragon, made Jaca his capital. The name Aragon comes from the river that flows down the Canfranc valley north of Jaca, past the town and then heads south west.
The small kingdom of Aragon expanded under Ramiro I with military victories against both the Moors and other fledging Christian nations and Jaca’s importance increased.
Jaca flourished the rule of Ramiro’s son Sancho Ramirez. He granted Jaca a royal charter in 1077 allowing weekly markets and trade. During his reign the cathedral was constructed and the seat of the bishop of Aragon was moved to the city. The city walls were built and Jaca prospered with new residents flocking to the city to take advantage of the developing trade.
Jaca’s time as the capital of Aragon ended in 1096 with the re-conquest of Huesca from the Moors – the capital was moved to this larger city and in the following century moved south again to Zaragoza.
Jaca cathedral was the first Romanesque cathedral in Spain and is considered as one of Spain’s most important Romanesque monuments. Construction began in 1077 during the reign of Sancho Ramírez, and finished in 1130. Even though the original layout was subject to alterations, extensions and demolitions over the years, its current layout is still true to its original Romanesque design.
The style called ajedrezado jaqués – a type of blocked chessboard pattern – was first used. The Cathedral was important architecturally as the Pilgrims travelling to Santiago spread the Romanesque style and this chessboard pattern along the Camino de Santiago.
The floor plan is that of a basilica with a crossing and three naves. The central one is the highest and is separated from the aisles by
alternating cruciform piers and columns with very thick shafts, all with richly decorated capitals.
One of my favourite parts of the cathedral is the chapel of Santa Orosia – the patron saint of Jaca. The chapel has wonderful paintings telling the story of the saint – a Christian noblewoman in the 7th or 8th century. Llegend tells us that Santa Orosia was beheaded by Moors after refusing to marry a Moorish prince.
- Open most days until 8pm.
- Free admission (but you’ll have to pay for the inside lighting for which you will need a 1€ coin, that you put in a box).
Diocesan Museum of religious art
The Diocesan Museum of religious art is located in the Cathedral Cloister and displays a large collection of medieval paintings and frescos from the various churches and chapels in the diocese. There are lots of abandoned villages in the area and it’s impossible to maintain all of the churches so many frescos were removed before they were destroyed by the elements. It’s been recently renovated and is really well presented. Romanesque art is the most important part of the Museum’s collection, but it also includes excellent examples of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque art.
Morning – 10am to 1:30am.
Afternoon – 4pm to 7pm (until 8:30pm in july and august)
Closed on Sunday afternoon (except in july and august), 1st Friday of May and 25th of June (local festivals).
Admission: 6€, including guided visit (+1,5€ for guided visit of the Cathedral) – Guided visits are in Spanish.
The Jaca Citadel is a pentagonal fortification built at the end of the 16th century in the reign of Philip II and was the first castle in Spain to be built to defend against cannon-fire with low thick walls. It is still complete with moat, bastions, scarps, barracks, arsenal and tunnels, as well as a beautiful entrance with a drawbridge.
You can walk around the park that surrounds the citadel and see the deer that now live in the moat. Although there are several castles of this design in Europe this is the best preserved as its never been involved in a battle. The citadel is still the headquarters for the Ski and Mountaneering Division of the Spanish army and Jaca has a large barracks in the north of the town.
The Citadel alos houses the Museum of Military Miniatures, with its collection of over 32,000 lead figures exhibited in 23 historic scenes and showing the development of weapons, uniforms and fighting tactics from the time of the Pharaohs to the early 21 st century!
Morning – 10:30am to 1:30am.
Afternoon – 4:30pm to 7:30pm (until 8:30pm in july and august)
Closed on Monday (except from mid July to end of August), 1st Friday of May, 25th and 29th of June (local festivals).
Admission: 6€, guided visit only (+4€ for Military Museum entrance) – Guided visits are in Spanish only.
The Clock Tower
The Clock Tower, also known as the Prison Tower, is a four-storey Gothic building with a vaulted cellar. It was built in the mid 15th century to replace the cathedral prison destroyed by fire in 1440, but it was soon used as a residence for the bailiff and later as a prison.
Ater it was purchased by the town council in the 16th century, the tower housed the city bells – these huge bells can now be seen just inside the entrance if the town hall.
A major restoration was undertaken in the 20th century that returned it to its original splendour. You can’t go in the tower however it is definitely worth checking out the tower and its surrounding as it is located in one of the nicest part of the old town, next to the Ramiro I statue and in the middle of a little charming square full of nice local restaurants and cafés with terraces.
There’s plenty more to see in Jaca – enjoy exploring this lovely town.